Sunday, 28 August 2011

Reds rout Bolton to go top

Liverpool went to the top of the Premier League table on goal difference last night after goals from Jordan Henderson, Martin Skrtel and Charlie Adam handed the Merseysiders an emphatic and richly deserved 3-1 victory over Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers at an elated Anfield.

Henderson’s delightful curler, Skrtel’s thumping header and Adam’s deadly accurate daisy-cutter were the cherry on the top of the cake that was this simply brilliant performance from Kenny Dalglish’s side, who are oozing with confidence and gathering considerable momentum for the upcoming campaign following their best start to a League season in 17 years.

History was certainly stacked in the Reds’ favour, as they went into the clash having emerged victorious from the last nine meetings between the two teams, conceding only twice. However, after comprehensively defeating Premier League new boys QPR on the opening day of the season and running title challengers Manchester City close last weekend, Liverpool knew their opponents would be no pushovers.

As a result, the Reds raced out of the blocks, dominating the early exchanges and regularly carving open the visitors’ defence while playing an expansive brand of football that proved pleasing on the eye. After eight minutes Liverpool broke swiftly from a Bolton corner, referee Lee Probert intelligently allowing play to proceed despite a blatant foul on Suarez. Henderson’s defence splitting pass sent Downing bearing down on goal and only a superb last ditch challenge denied the former Villa winger what surely would have been the opener.

Fortunately, the Kop faithful didn’t have to wait much longer for the deadlock to be broken though, as the aforementioned trio combined excitingly once again to give the Reds a fully deserved lead. Suarez used the outside of his foot to curl a breathtaking ball into the penalty area, where Downing forced Bolton stopper Juusi Jaaskelainen into a smart save from close range. Kuyt pounced onto the loose ball and fed Henderson, who displayed notable composure to curl the ball left footed into the top corner.

It was an excellent finish from the versatile 21-year old, who proved to be hugely influential throughout the first 45 minutes. In fact, six of Liverpool’s shots in the first period were either set up or fired in by the talented Sunderland-born star.

Bolton reacted in the right manner though, Petrov’s fizzing volley bringing out the best in Reina on 18 minutes. However, the Reds remained in the ascendancy and always looked the more likely to score next. Henderson remained at the centre of every attacking move, Kuyt coming within a whisker of converting his cross and Suarez dinking the ball onto the roof of the net after being played through one-on-one with the keeper by the impressive number 14.

While Henderson was the dynamic driving force behind our attack, his midfield partner and fellow new signing Charlie Adam displayed his stunning passing range, picking out passes that few others spot and consistently pinging the ball around the park in a manner worthy of someone dubbed as the "new Xabi Alonso."

One example of this arrived two minutes before the interval, when Adam's raking 30-yard pass released Downing down the wing. He cut in behind Bolton's backline but was stopped in his tracks by a blatant handball from Steinsson. Despite audible protestations from the home side, Probert refused to point to the spot, instead awarding a free kick just outside the box. It was a tough call for him to make because, although the defender was clearly inside the box, replays later suggested that Steinsson actually handled the ball outside of the area.

Nevertheless, the Reds went into the break full of confidence following a hugely encouraging first half display, which was only marred by the withdrawal of young right back Martin Kelly on the half hour mark due to a slight hamstring problem. Kelly only returned last weekend from a lengthy spell on the sidelines but unfortunately he seems to be frustratingly injury prone, which could hinder his attempts to make the right back slot his own. However, after missing two years due to injury during his teenage years and recovering to break through to the first team, Kelly appears to have the mental toughness to persevere.

Following such a domineering performance, many commentators remembered that similar verve and style was displayed on the opening day of the season yet the Reds failed to capitalise and eventually disappointingly dropped two points at home to Sunderland. Determined to prevent a repeat of this, Dalglish sent his troops out fired up and hungry to add to their lead to put the outcome of the contest beyond doubt.

Thankfully, they followed the legendary Scot's instructions to the letter, netting twice inside the first seven minutes of the second half to secure the three points. First, Skrtel rose highest to meet Charlie Adam's right wing corner and send an unstoppable bullet header beyond Jaaskelainen.

The former Blackpool playmaker then went from provider to goalscorer immediately after, firing a low shot through Knight's legs and into the corner of the net with his weaker right foot from 25-yards out. With the three points in the bag, the rest of the half became an exhibition for the hosts, Suarez almost capping yet another magnificent performance when he fired into the side netting from a tight angle after rounding the keeper.

Not even a late consolation from Bolton forward Ivan Klasnic after a mistake from Jamie Carragher could take the shine off this display. The seemingly seamless transition into the starting line-up made by the Reds' summer signings is hugely encouraging and shows the wisdom of completing transfers during pre-season as opposed to minutes before the deadline.

Charlie Adam looked immediately at home at the heart of our midfield alongside the reliable Lucas Leiva, while Henderson's pervasive influence was note-worthy and Downing has clearly added dynamism to our wing play. Meanwhile, Jose Enrique has settled into the left back slot perfectly, looking as if he has played in our defence for years rather than weeks. With Suarez, Kuyt and Carroll also firing on all cylinders, it is regretful that the international break has arrived now, potentially disrupting the momentum built up by such a formidable start.

Challenging fixtures at the Britannia Stadium and White Hart Lane await the Reds when domestic football resumes, providing a useful litmus test for determining the ability this squad possesses. Four points out of six should be the target and, if achieved, would really see the Reds off to a scintillating start.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

What did I miss?

While I was away for a long and enjoyable weekend at a Christian youth event named Momentum, Liverpool achieved two encouraging results that will only increase the optimism surrounding the Anfield club currently, as the Reds' season begins to pick up momentum and impetus itself.

A classy 2-0 victory against Arsenal was secured thanks to an own goal from the hosts' Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey and a late tap in from Luis Suarez and issued a clear statement of intent to those competing with the Merseysiders for Champions League qualification this campaign.

Meanwhile, comfortable progression to the third round of the Carling Cup via a routine 3-1 triumph over Exeter in Devon last night avoided unnecessary early-season embarrassment and banished memories of last season's humiliating exit at the hands of minnows Northampton Town.

The Reds' travelled to the Emirates stadium hopeful of finally claiming their first win at their bogey ground and also inflicting defeat on their opponent's home turf for the first time in eleven years.

With talismanic former skipper Cesc Fabregas returning to Barcelona, influential French midfielder Samir Nasri days away from finalising a move to Manchester City and injuries ruling out Alex Song, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, the pressure mounting on Arsene Wenger was reaching new heights and the Gunners were a team there for the taking.

Conversely, despite a deflating opening day draw; the visitors were full of confidence after a much-improved end to last season and a summer of consistent development in the transfer window. This contrast was reflected in the opening stages, as the Reds began in the ascendancy, passing the ball about with the same assurance ordinarily associated with Arsenal.

Carroll proved a constant menace up front and almost broke the deadlock on 19 minutes, with Szczesny's fantastic diving stop required to prevent the tall forward's header from Downing's deep cross finding the net. Moreover, summer signing Charlie Adam pulled the strings in midfield and oozed confidence throughout, even attempting two audacious Alonso-esque efforts mid-way through the first half and immediately after the restart. The first caught Szczesny unaware and sailed inches over the bar while the second was comfortably caught by the keeper.

Ten minutes before the break Samir Nasri demonstrated why his departure will almost certainly severely weaken the Londoner's squad, as he carried the ball from his own half to the edge of the Reds' area, slaloming effortlessly past several Liverpool defenders in the process before striking a low shot inches wide of the upright.

That proved to be one of few chances created by the unusually out of form Gunners though, while the Reds remained on top. Martin Kelly, featuring for the first time since our February defeat to West Ham United, showed what we have been missing on 54 minutes when he began a move that incorporated Kuyt, Henderson, Adam and Carroll and concluded with the young right back's shot ricocheting behind off the post.

Meanwhile, on the other flank Jose Enrique impressed with another solid display that earned him the man of the match award in the eyes of many spectators while Downing regularly threatened the home side's back line with his incisive dribbling ability and unrivalled crossing prowess.

The turning point arrived twenty minutes from time when a clumsy, high and late challenge on Lucas Leiva earned Arsenal debutant Emmanuel Frimpong a second yellow card. As the Ghanaian walked down the tunnel to take an early bath, Luis Suarez and Raul Meireles entered the action and proceeded to clinch the three points for the away side.

The dynamic duo combined on 77 minutes to cause confusion in the Gunners box, ending comically as Ignasi Miquel's attempted clearance inadvertently hit the chest of Aaron Ramsey and looped over the keeper and into the net.

The Reds' had a large slice of good fortune to thank for their first goal, however their second on the stroke of full time was reminiscent of Arsenal at their best as Lucas, Meireles and Suarez exchanged neat passes in a triangle to set up the Uruguayan, who completed the simple task of tapping into an empty net from close range.

Although such an emphatic triumph away to one of our main rivals for a top four finish was extremely pleasing, the fact that Liverpool's next fixture was a second round Carling Cup tie away to League One outfit Exeter City while Arsenal flew to Italy to face Udinese in a qualifier for the group stages of the Champions League gave some much-needed perspective to the victory.

The Reds were competing in the second round stage of the Carling Cup for the first time in 12 years, but Kenny Dalglish took no chances as he selected a strong starting line-up in a bid to secure his 200th victory as Liverpool boss. Captain for the night Pepe Reina started alongside new signings Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson as well as super subs at the Emirates Raul Meireles and Luis Suarez.

This strategy was bold and risky and went against the tradition of giving youngsters and squad players a run out in the earlier stages of England's secondary domestic cup competition. Although it eventually paid off, it came at a high cost as Raul Meireles suffered a collarbone injury in a collision with Danny Coles only 20 minutes in and is expected to be out of action for several weeks.

Despite the disappointment caused by the withdrawal of the Portugese midfielder, the travelling Kop were mesmerised by the silky skills of Suarez throughout the rest of the evening, as the Reds' new number seven emulated his illustrious predecessors while scoring once and creating two other goals. The first arrived midway through the first period when he volleyed home after goalkeeper Krysiak had only half-cleared Henderson's cross.

Golbourne then drove infield for the Grecians and arrowed an effort wide of target before Shephard raced through and nearly lobbed Reina in an early second half scare for the Reds. However, the outcome of the contest was put beyond doubt in the space of five second half minutes as a great counter-attack culminated in Maxi netting from Suarez's cutback before Carroll dispatched an excellent effort into the back of the net after a nutmeg from Suarez had added spice to the build up.

Former Manchester United trainee Daniel Nardiello picked himself up to convert a spot kick and claim a consolation for the hosts ten minutes from time following a trip from Slovakian centre back Martin Skrtel.

Nevertheless, the Reds can be content with a comfortable and comprehensive Carling Cup win to complement the crucial three points collected versus Arsenal and now look to develop further momentum with another victory at home to Owen Coyle's Bolton Wanderers on Saturday teatime.


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The race is on: Assessing the Reds' rivals in the fight for fourth

Despite the Reds' fierce rivals Manchester United retaining a virtual monopoly over the Premier League title (triumphing in four out of the last five title races) fans are routinely told that, thanks to foreign billionaires turning clubs from paupers to princes over night, this season's title race will be the closest one yet and, with Roberto Mancini's City side and Andre Villas-Boas' Chelsea outfit both seemingly preparing to surmount a challenge to United's dominance, this season is no exception.

Whether City have the cohesive squad necessary to win the title and Roman Abramovich has the patience to allow the Blues' 33-year old boss to implement his attractive playing style and wrestle the title from Fergie's grasp is another article all together. However, there is little doubt that the competition to secure one of the four much coveted Champions League places will be as, if not more intense than the aforementioned title race.

Liverpool look set to tussle with Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City for a top four finish and in this article I will examine each side in depth.

Tottenham Hotspur

Last season's results: 0-2 (H), 1-2 (A)

When do we face them? 18th September (A), 4th February (H)

Strengths: Spurs possess a vast array of creativity in midfield which aptly supplies a forward line full of ammunition. Speed kings Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale provide raw pace and dribbling ability on the right and left wings respectively, while Rafael Van der Vaart and Luka Modric add guile and invention to the centre of the Lilywhites' midfield.

Meanwhile, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane are all established Premier League strikers and allow boss Harry Redknapp to employ various formations up front, adding a crucial element of variation and unpredictability to their frontline. When on form all four are frightening prospects for opposition defences.

Weaknesses: Goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, although capable of brilliance, is prone to costly errors and fails to fill his back four with confidence. Moreover, defensive linchpin Ledley King has suffered horrendous bad fortune with injury, meaning that their club captain is rarely available to patrol the defence and provide much-needed on-pitch leadership.

Last season: Tottenham enjoyed their first Champions League campaign last year, claiming famous victories over both AC and Inter Milan to impressively reach the last eight, before coming unstuck against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, losing 5-0 on aggregate. In the League they pipped Liverpool to fifth place, ensuring they remain in European competition. However, the less prestigious Europa League could prove to be a poisoned chalice, with the extra demands imposed on the squad by regular Thursday night fixtures likely to affect their League form and hinder them in the fight for fourth spot.

Transfer activity: Redknapp moved quickly to snap up experienced former Liverpool keeper Brad Friedel on a free transfer after his contract with Aston Villa expired. The American penned a two-year contract and will provide formidable competition for the unreliable Gomes. However, speculation linking Luka Modric with a move to London rivals Chelsea has proved unsettling for Spurs supporters. The creative Croatian was instrumental in their midfield last season and would be sorely missed.

There have been few new arrivals so far, but Redknapp has a reputation for finalising shrewd transfer deals close to the deadline, demonstrated by the stunning capture of Rafael Van der Vaart for only £8 million two hours before last August's transfer window slammed shut.

Where will they finish? With the distraction of the Europa League and further investment required to break into the top four once again, Spurs will struggle to match last season's fifth-placed finish. 6th


Last season's results: 1-1 (H), 1-1 (A)

When do we face them? 20th August (A), 3rd March (H)

Strengths: Widely considered to be the best footballing team in the country, at their best Arsenal resemble Catalan kings Barcelona with their free flowing, forward thinking style of play a hallmark of Arsene Wenger's fifteen year reign. Inevitably, plenty of goals result, with only champions Manchester United bettering the Gunners' total of 72 strikes last season.

Weaknesses: The Gunners lack a trustworthy number one stopper. Wenger has experimented with Almunia, Szczensy and Fabianski yet nobody has fully convinced the fans or the manager and a top quality keeper is surely a must in the transfer window this summer. Arsenal are defensively vulnerable and have lacked a destructive midfield general in the mould of Makelele or Mascherano since the departure of Patrick Viera six years ago.

Last season: Arsenal appear to be locked in a nightmare Groundhog day scenario, with each successive campaign following a predictable pattern and only exacerbating the fans' frustration. Early promise is routinely followed by end-of-season heartbreak and yet another trophyless campaign.

A catastrophic mix-up between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny in the Carling Cup final proved to be the catalyst for last season's collapse. After losing out to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup, the London side bowed out of the Champions League to Barcelona and suffered defeat at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. Meanwhile, their title tilt fell to pieces, as the Gunners even missed out on automatic qualification for the group stages of the Champions League, ending an underwhelming fourth.

Transfer activity: Wenger has boosted his attacking options with the signing of Ivorian striker Gervinho and 18-year old winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (who was linked with a move to Anfield) from Championship side Southampton.

However, in a summer when their squad requires replenishing rather than dismantling, the focus has been on those departing the Emirates rather than those arriving. Star player Cesc Fabregas finally completed his £35 million transfer to boyhood team Barcelona recently while Samir Nasri has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester City, severely damaging Arsenal's creative heartbeat.

With the fans becoming restless and pressure mounting, Wenger surely must invest in the playing squad this summer. However, even though the Gunners are one of the most financially stable clubs in the country, the stubborn Frenchman is inherently reluctant to spend cash, and remains unlikely to buck that trend any time soon.

Where will they finish? Despite their phenomenal record of reaching the group stages of the Champions League every season since 1998/1999, there is a very real possibility that the Gunners may miss out next season. 5th

Manchester City

Last season's results: 3-0 (H), 0-3 (A)

When do we face them? 27th November (H), 2nd January (A)

Strengths: City have an enviable wealth of attacking talent. Their front line is composed of a string of household names including Adebayor, Balotelli, Bellamy, Dzeko, Aguero, Santa Cruz and Tevez, allowing comprehensive cover up front. Mancini's side is built upon a strong defensive core though, with England's first choice keeper Joe Hart and robust central midfielders Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure sandwiching and protecting their back four. In fact, alongside Chelsea they conceded the fewest goals last season, with their net bulging on average less than once a match.

Weaknesses: The occasionally over-cautious approach adopted by manager Roberto Mancini when facing their main rivals saw City collect only five points from matches against the top four last season. The Italian's traditional 4-5-1 set up may need to be altered if the Eastlands outfit are to rack up more points in those crucial fixtures this time around. Moreover, with characters such as the moody Mario Balotelli, controversial Craig Bellamy and enigmatic Emmanuel Adebayor in the dressing room, squad unity could prove difficult to foster amongst City's pampered and overpaid prima donnas.

Last season: The owner's twin goals of Champions League qualification and a domestic trophy were met as City enjoyed their most successful campaign in years. After securing their first trophy in 35 years thanks to Yaya Toure's solitary strike versus Stoke in the FA Cup final, the Citizens clinched third place and automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages. They'll be looking to go one further this season and mount a serious bid for the Premier League title.

Transfer activity: The possible departure of club captain and modern day mercenary Carlos Tevez has dominated the headlines, as the Argentina international has been linked with a return home to South America. Although speculation has recently quietened, City fans cannot trust Tevez, who has shown a shocking lack of loyalty throughout his career. This was shown most patently when he swapped Old Trafford for Eastlands in the summer of 2009.

Nevertheless, although chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak promised a relatively quiet summer transfer window, City's squad has deepened further thanks to the financial support of owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Defenders Stefan Savic and Gael Clichy have arrived from Partizan Belgrade and Arsenal respectively for a combined total rumoured to be around £14 million, while highly rated Spanish striker Sergio Aguero was snapped up for a fee that could rise to an eye-watering £38 million. Such is City's wealth; they appear to be able to purchase players simply to deplete their rivals' squads, with a further £25 million likely to be spent to entice Arsenal to sell Samir Nasri.

If this is what City's owners describe as a 'quiet' summer than I'd hate to see what a 'loud' summer is like!

Where will they finish? Although another season may be required before they can settle as a squad and clinch the title, City are going from strength to strength and surely must be considered genuine title challengers. I certainly cannot see them failing to qualify for the Champions League. 2nd or 3rd

Conclusion: Liverpool will struggle to compete with Manchester City, who appear destined to compete for the Premier League title as their owner's massive investment may finally pay off. However, North London sides Arsenal and Spurs appear to have stalled this summer and, with a Kenny Dalglish inspired red revolutuion and several new faces arriving to bolster our squad, there is no reason why we cannot finish fourth.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Suarez strikes as Reds suffer Sunderland stalemate

Liverpool were left deflated yesterday after a disappointing opening day draw at home to Steve Bruce's Sunderland. Luis Suarez compensated for an early missed penalty by netting soon after to reward an encouraging first half display from the Merseyside outfit, however the Black Cats fought back valiantly during the second period, debutant Seb Larsson volleying home a beautiful finish at the Anfield Road end to earn a point for the visitors and leave Dalglish's men frustrated.

With both teams splashing out in the summer transfer window, there were many debutants on display. Jordan Henderson made his first start against his former club in midfield alongside fellow new signings Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing, while ex Newcastle man Jose Enrique completed his Liverpool debut only days after signing from Sunderland's fierce rivals. Meanwhile, Seb Larsson and Wes Brown made their first appearances for the visitors following moves from Birmingham City and Manchester United respectively.

Despite the anticipated difficulty of integrating numerous new signings into a cohesive and effective unit, the hosts connected well throughout the first 45 minutes, impressing the home crowd with swift and fluent passing while persistently attacking and threatening the Wearsiders' net. They also retained defensive stability, as Reina remained virtually untested during a quiet opening from the opposition.

Only five minutes in the Reds had the perfect opportunity to begin the season in an ideal manner. Luis Suarez blocked Richardson's hurried clearance on the halfway line and appeared destined to capitalise on the error as he went one-on-one with Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet, however he was abruptly halted when Richardson sent the Uruguayan sprawling with a mistimed challenge from behind.

Referee Phil Dowd rightly pointed to the spot but he failed to send Richardson off when the Sunderland number 11 clearly deserved a straight red for illegally denying a goalscoring opportunity. The visitors' good fortune extended further as Copa America winner Suarez was perhaps too confident in attempting to fire into the roof of the net, instead blasting well over the cross bar from 12 yards.

The ever-loyal Kop responded by chanting their hero's name and Suarez made up for his error and repaid their support on 12 minutes, instinctively glancing Charlie Adam's excellent set piece beyond Mignolet and into the net. It was a glimpse of the potential possessed by the former Blackpool playmaker and yet another example of Suarez's lethal efficiency in front of goal.

Liverpool continued to exert their dominance on the proceedings and would have doubled their lead soon after through Suarez's strike partner Andy Carroll had Dowd not made another costly error. Downing's deadly accurate cross picked out the tall England international, who controlled the ball expertly and slotted home from close range. Unfortunately a mere touch on Anton Ferdinand led the referee to unfairly disallow Carroll's perfectly legitimate goal, as the Sunderland centre back's playacting kept his side in the match.

The away side still struggled to call Reina into action though, as Gyan's hooked effort from the edge of the area mid-way through the first period remained their only real sight of goal. Conversely, the hosts were exuding confidence on the ball and entertaining the Anfield faithful in the process.

An example of this composure arrived 10 minutes before the break, when 18-year old right back John Flanagan displayed footballing intelligence beyond his relatively few years to evade a challenge under pressure and release Stewart Downing with a simple yet effective pass.

The dynamic Downing stormed down the right hand side with notable purpose and stylish verve, thundering a rasping drive against the cross bar from fully 25-yards after running almost half the length of the pitch. The former Villa winger's run was simply outstanding and, had the ball burst the net, it would have been an early goal-of-the-season contender which would have taken some beating.

Disappointingly, despite a thoroughly promising first period, the age old proverb that football is a 'game of two halves' rung emphatically true yesterday, as the away side stepped up a level to earn a fully deserved point while the Reds failed to live up to the admittedly high standard set by their first half display.

Early appeals for another spot kick fell on deaf ears after the Kop claimed that Suarez's low cross struck the hand of ex Manc Wes Brown, before Richardson's shot dipped just over the bar and Gyan squandered a good chance when he headed tamely at Reina from Larsson's teasing centre. The away side's pressure finally told moments before the hour mark when the unmarked Larsson acrobatically netted a tremendous leveller from Elmohamdy's cross.

Sessegnon clipped over Reina's bar as Sunderland grew in confidence in the closing stages, while Liverpool were restricted to only a few efforts from tall target man Andy Carroll. First, Carroll headed Adam's corner goalwards but Mignolet was more than a match for the effort. Then, with time ticking down, Jose Enrique, who was Carroll's Newcastle teammate when they were promoted from the Championship in 2009/2010, whipped a wonderful cross into the area, where the 22-year old glanced a header just wide of the post.

It was a disappointing end to a game that the Reds were expected to comfortably claim all three points from. Although many positives can be taken from the first half display, in particular Downing's performance and the attacking potency of Suarez and Carroll, the second half was frustratingly mediocre.

Following a dominant first 45 Liverpool failed to put the outcome of the tie beyond doubt and, although some indefensible refereeing decisions didn't help, we simply must put teams like Sunderland to the sword at Anfield if we are to realise our Champions League aspirations.


Friday, 5 August 2011

Who else must leave?

Liverpool's transfer policy has had twin aims this summer. Revamping the squad by purchasing talented British youngsters has been a clear priority, with the Reds demonstrating this by spending a combined approximate total of £44 million on Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam. However, their intention to remove large chunks of the deadwood that built up in the squad during the ill-fated Hicks and Gillett era has proven more difficult to fulfil.

The much-maligned Paul Konchesky, who failed to impress following a £5 million move from Fulham last summer, was swiftly sold to Championship outfit Leicester City for a fraction of the price that was paid to purchase the 30-year old left back. Meanwhile, Milan Jovanovic (whose Anfield career was comically summarised by the video below) has finally agreed to join Belgian side Anderlecht after the proposed transfer was in danger of collapsing due to the Serb's unrealistic wage demands.

However, new American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) are still left struggling to reduce their excessive wage bill, with many underperforming players remaining at the club, content to routinely claim their undeserved pay-checks while contributing very little on the pitch.

The main culprit in the eyes of many supporters is Joe Cole who, despite generating plenty of optimism upon his arrival, has woefully failed to live up to his much-vaunted potential. The likeable Londoner may have joined on a free transfer but he hasn't come cheap, with £90,000 a week seemingly wasted on the frustratingly injury-prone number 10.

Also, the enigmatic Cole has proven to be somewhat nomadic at Anfield, as he seems unable to settle in a particular position and claim a place in the first eleven as his own. Ideally, Cole sees himself as an attacking midfielder playing in the ‘trequartista’ role just off the main striker. In reality though Cole has struggled to get any significant playing time and, when afforded a rare appearance, he has often been shafted out onto the left or right wing, where he has made little impact on proceedings.

Although widely seen as a skilful and inventive midfielder who could add a creative spark to our attack, Cole's disappointing first season leaves him with much still to prove. If any manager can get the best out of Joe Cole it is Kenny Dalglish, however it would not be surprising if the legendary Scot decided to cut his losses and arrange for his departure from Anfield this August.

Cole himself appears to have admitted defeat, possibly indicating where his future lies by recently putting his house up for sale, with rumours that his Formby home has already been sold also circulating in the media and online.

The manager who signed Cole, and received universal praise for doing so, was infamous for signing several spectacular flops during his brief yet destructive reign at the Anfield managerial helm. Not only did Hodgson sign the abysmal Paul Konchesky, and the hopelessly past his best Joe Cole, he also ludicrously sanctioned the purchase of ageing Danish midfielder Christian Poulsen from Juventus for just under £5 million.

The blonde-haired defensive midfielder is another to have left the Kop disappointed, disillusioned and disgusted, and who must be headed for an imminent exit. His style of play is slow and uninfluential, the game regularly passes him by and he evidently lacks the quality to make it on Merseyside.

Moreover, with Meireles and Lucas forming a flourishing partnership last season, the promising pair Henderson and Adam arriving from Sunderland and Blackpool respectively and youngsters Spearing and Shelvey impressing, Poulsen faces heavy competition for a place in the middle of the park.

And I haven't even mentioned Steven Gerrard!

Increased competition for places could also force Poulsen's teammate David Ngog to depart in order to secure regular first team football, with the young French striker struggling to work his way into Kenny Dalglish's plans following the double signing of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll in the January transfer window.

With Suarez's fancy footwork dazzling the Kop, battering-ram Andy Carroll adding a formidable and intimidating physical presence and the tireless Dirk Kuyt finally hitting top form in his preferred striking role, Ngog found himself on the outskirts of the first eleven during the dying stages of last season.

Although the tall 22-year old has displayed some potential during pre-season and could remain for a further season in order to fulfil the role of fourth choice forward, Liverpool are likely to accept any serious offer and some of his sterner critics would be willing to give him a lift to the airport.

The likes of Brad Jones, Philipp Degen and Nabil El Zhar are surplus to requirements and will be moved on as quickly as possible, while injury-ravaged Brazilian left back Fabio Aurelio could leave if a replacement is found in time.

As the press predictably focus on the big names being introduced to the media at Melwood, the red revolution inspired by the return of King Kenny must be quietly yet crucially quickened by ushering many of the above hastily out of the back door.


Monday, 1 August 2011

What can we expect next season?

Certain aspects of the summer break from competitive football are seemingly unchanging and timeless. The boredom of the first few weeks, the gradual growth of anticipation as pre-season training and friendly matches commence and the increasingly intense transfer speculation as the midnight deadline approaches have all become ingrained within our collective footballing conscience during the summer recess.

Moreover, traditionally Liverpool supporters' hopes and expectations ahead of the new season have been bizarrely and, for fans of our rivals at least, comically unrealistic. Bold predictions of the Reds storming all before them and claiming their nineteenth League title are never missing from the build up to a season, however disappointingly they have always proven to be misplaced, as a depressing twenty-one years have elapsed since our last League triumph and a Premier League winners' trophy still remains conspicuous in its absence from the Anfield trophy room.

The asset stripping endured throughout the death throes of the club's former owners' reign went some way to reducing expectations, as the sensible majority properly saw even challenging for the title as a delusion rather than a dream due to the depletion of an already paper-thin squad.

However, with the resurgence enjoyed following the return of Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish to the Anfield dugout results have rapidly improved and expectations have inevitably crept up again, as our lack of squad depth, although rectified partly by the Reds' transfer activity so far, has been masked by the quite remarkable turnaround experienced under the 60-year old Scot's guidance.

It appears that the raised morale, improved atmosphere and unusual optimism surrounding the club currently, although obviously welcome, may have clouded some fans' judgement, as the new season draws ever nearer and the belief that Liverpool could challenge for the title next season, despite their lowly sixth placed finish last time out, becomes more prevalent.

A sense of perspective is required to reduce the considerable pressure placed upon Dalglish and his squad ahead of the Merseysiders' first full season under the ownership of the highly respected Fenway Sports Group (FSG). The fact that no side has won the Premier League after finishing lower than third the season before should provide a reality check for those fans with excessive aspirations for the upcoming campaign.

The noteworthy investment in talented and expensive youth by both wealthy Manchester clubs, as well as the renewed positivity at Stamford Bridge following the appointment of the hugely promising and successful young manager Andre Villas-Boas, should also reveal the amount of work still needed to overhaul our main rivals.

Although Liverpool are clearly progressing and developing both their squad and starting eleven through targeted and heavy investment ahead of the period of belt tightening expected when financial fair play rules are enacted, other top clubs are pursuing similar strategies this summer and, without the incentive of Champions League football to entice potential signings, the Reds may struggle to compete at the top echelons of the table.

It is therefore crucial that Champions League qualification is secured next season and a top four finish is a realistic and attainable expectation. Thankfully, principal owner John Henry shares this view, stating, "It's too early for us to start talking about winning the league...our main goal is to qualify for the Champions League."

The prestige of dining at European football's top table is coupled favourably with the additional revenue streams generated by participating in the Champions League on a regular basis. Consequently, a virtuous circle develops, where Champions League football provides extra income, which in turn can be invested in improving the playing squad and continuing to compete in the club game's biggest competition.

Missing out on a top four finish for a season is not disastrous, however if we fail to qualify for the Champions League yet again next season then it will become increasingly difficult to break back into the elite of the game following three years in the footballing wilderness.

Presuming that Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea will be the main challengers for the title, next season should see the Reds compete with London outfits Tottenham and Arsenal for that final position in the top four. With the future of Tottenham star Luka Modric up in the air and Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas seemingly destined to return to his boyhood Barcelona, both Redknapp and Wenger must be looking over their shoulders worrying at the threat posed by Dalglish's troops.

As Spurs' and the Gunners' recent progress appears to be stalling, Liverpool must be ready to pounce and take advantage by surmounting a serious and successful challenge for a top four spot next season. Ironically, the fact that we will have no midweek European fixtures to disrupt our schedule and increase the likelihood of injuries hampering the squad could provide a key advantage in what will almost certainly be an intriguing battle for fourth.

As well as Champions League qualification, an extended run in a domestic cup competition should be achieved in order to boost confidence and help the winning bug to return to Merseyside following five long years without a trophy. Liverpool FC exists to win trophies and, after years of solely existing to pay off debt from an unwanted leveraged buy-out, the focus has finally and thankfully returned to the football pitch.

Now, it is time to kick on and look forward to what should be a much improved campaign under the stewardship of Dalglish, Comolli and co. in which the aim surely must be a decent cup run and a return to where we belong; the top table of European football.